Invite-only #Giro100 Camp

Giro d'Italia on the Passo Sella

We love the Giro. We love anniversary parties. We love the Dolomites. We love our Monte Grappa. Since the 100th anniversary of the Giro includes all these things, we figured it’s going to be a perfect week. The final stages of the Giro are going to be an exciting climax to what promises to be one of the best routes in years. We know all the roads, climbs, and perfect places to watch as the winner is decided.

Our camp won’t appear on our 2017 schedule, instead this will be an invite-only camp. If you’d like to join us, please send an email to [email protected] and ask to join the list. We’ll send out invitations with complete information by 15 November. While we’re still finalizing all the details, expect a few days in the Dolomites followed by a few days at our HQ. Stage 20 covers our home ground, and there’s nothing like seeing a major sporting event on your own turf!

We’re excited about the 100th Giro, and hope you are too. Come join us!

How NOT to do Venice

Venice Canal 2010

When I was visiting with Velo Veneto in Castelcucco in June, I decided I was going to climb Monte Grappa AND go to Venice on the same day. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The climb up to Monte Grappa from Bassano del Grappa is an amazing climb; last year the Giro had a time trial on this road, so we climbed up the Grappa from another village and rode across the top to see the racers suffer in the rain up the front of the massif. It’s a 22km, HC climb&emdash;not easy no matter which way you go. That’s one of the awesome parts about staying with Velo Veneto in Castelcucco; you can ride up the Grappa on one road, descend down a different road, and still have time to go to Venice via public transportation…if you are in good running shape. (Ed. note – Velo Veneto provides a private shuttle service to make this easy. Why Jamie didn’t take advantage, nobody knows…)

I rushed back from the Grappa loop and caught a bus to Castelfranco. When I got off the bus in Castelfranco, logic would have you assume that the train station would be near the bus station. This is not true. Luckily I met a young kid, just off a work shift, that took the time to walk me the 1.5km to the train station. Unlike my last experience at the Castelfranco train station three days before, I caught the correct train, and 45 minutes later I was strolling around the canals of Venice.

I love Venice. It’s crowded, over-touristed, and a little stinky, but it’s an incredible example of historic preservation, even in the face of ruinous effects of salt water and the pressures of globalization. (Although I did recently learn that many of the older buildings expel their human waste directly into the bay. Maybe that’s some historic preservation that should be re-engineered).

I knew I only had an hour and a half in Venice before I had to be back to catch the train to Castelfranco to catch the last bus to Castelcucco, but I didn’t count on how difficult it is to navigate through Venice. The city grew radially out of a small settlement with no planning grids, and the roads are a spaghetti bowl with countless dead ends. I tried to give myself sufficient time to get back to the train, but as the minutes passed by and I seemed to be navigating myself in circles, I realized I would have to run to catch the train.

So I ran, asking non-tourist looking people directions without slowing my run, and I think I ran about 5km before I finally found the station, sprinted to the train, and hopped on just as the doors were closing. I didn’t get a chance to double check the sign on the train to make sure it was the train to Castelfranco, so I asked a woman on the train. She took one look at my wide eyes and sweat dripping down my face and backed away quickly, saying she didn’t know. Ha.

I then realized that I would also only have 10 minutes between when the train arrived in Castelfranco and when the bus in Castelfranco left for Castelcucco, and since the train station was 1.5km away from the bus station, I was going to have to sprint again. When the train doors opened, I hit the ground running, and sprinted across town, past the surprised men hanging out at the bar, probably the same guys that have watched me either run or drag bike boxes down this particular sidewalk. It seems I can never just walk.

Anyway, the bus was pulling out of the station as I rounded the corner and jumped over a fence. I did an all-out, 50-meter dash and banged on the back of the bus with my fists. The driver stopped, and I got in, and I thought the adventure was over. No. Even though I had bought tickets from an official on the bus on my way to Venice, apparently now things had changed and the bus driver drove the bus to a bar and told me to RUN and buy a bus ticket at the bar.

I did make it back to Castelcucco in time for dinner, much to the surprise of Jason and the hotel staff that had taken bets on my chances of making the last bus. I’m thinking that this itinerary is not something I would suggest for any of my friends.

Stuck in Italy

Due to bad planning and a missing driver’s license (I hope whoever took my wallet in the Girona grocery store is enjoying my almost-full frequent customer card at the local coffee shop in Girona), I spent a week in Castelcucco, Italy. Velo Veneto’s long-running race camps are run out of Castelcucco, and it’s a fabulous place, situated at the base of Montegrappa in the rolling hills of Prosecco country. I was only going to stay one night in Castelcucco, continue on to the Dolomites to hang out with my tired and demoralized husband Brent on the rest day of the Giro, and cheer him on in a few subsequent stages of the last week of the Giro. Unfortunately, even in Italy, one cannot rent a car without a driver’s license. 4 hours, two train rides, a bus ride, and defeated phone call later, I made it to Castelcucco.

I did all this traveling with a bike in a bike bag. It wasn’t pretty.

IMG_8007Without the car, I was stuck in Castelcucco. There would be no watching Brent race. To top it off, when I unpacked my bike I realized the airline (Ryanair) had broken the seatstay of my bike. It was a dark evening. Fortunately, I know people. Specifically, I know Jason, the co-owner of Velo Veneto. Jason arranged a bike rental, drove me to Pinzolo for the rest day, AND organized flawless frame repair by the famous Cavalera bike shop.

The guy works magic.

I ended up having an absolute blast riding around Castelcucco. I’m continually amazed by the riding around this area. The roads are downright fantastic. There are 10 ways up Montegrappa; you would have to spend a month riding all the routes. We also rode up Pianezze and Foza Both rides were adventures. On Pianezze, we ended up riding with some Italian fellows that were pretty stand-offish until they realized they wouldn’t be dropping us on the climb, and then they wanted selfies. We also rode past caves built by Italian soldiers in WWI.

The scenery in the Foza ride was incredible. We rode along in a deep valley, rolling through red tiled roof houses and villages built on the banks of a rushing river until we left the valley behind. We climbed up to a small village perched above the clouds, surrounded by spruce and fir forest and a sheep pasture. We had coffee in a quiet town built around a stunning white cathedral with views all the way down to the river in the valley below.

If you are a cyclist and a lover of the Italian countryside, I highly recommend getting “stuck” in Castelcucco.

Monte Zoncolan: Tailgating at 5,700 Feet

Steve Morabito Fans on Monte Zoncolan

Stage 20 of the 2014 Giro must go down as one of my favorite days of race watching. The race finished in the Friuli region, on Monte Zoncolan. I arranged to go to the finish of the stage with the extremely nice family of Brent’s swiss-french teammate, Steve Morabito. They picked me up from the train station in Padova, and when I climbed into their car for 2.5 hour drive to Zoncolan, I immediately began to sweat. It was a hot day and their air-conditioning was barely on; the French are famous for their distaste of air conditioning. I texted Brent, who was rooming with Steve, and he replied that he was a hotel room with Steve, sweating his ass off as well because the air conditioning was not on in their room either.

Steve’s wife had arranged to meet with a local Italian fan to get us press passes. I’m still not sure what happened, but after a lot of hand waving and rapid Italian, we were ushered into the press hotel, our pictures were taken, and the new credentials complete with our photos were hung around our necks. Then we proceeded to tailgate “Italian style” in the parking lot for the lift to Zoncolan, joining the hundreds of drunk joyous and boisterous Italians drinking homemade Prosecco and eating almond cake. No one seemed that concerned that the race would be finishing soon and we were still at the bottom of the lift and the race finished at the top, 3 miles and a 1000 feet of altitude away. When the time seemed right (i.e. the Prosecco ran out) we loaded onto the press-only ski lift and trundled to the top, loaded with Morabito flags. (Steve Morabito’s fan club runs like a well-oiled swiss machine- there are Morabito flags, hats, jackets, etc., and yearly dinners raise money for all the fans to travel to cheer him on at international events).

Monte Zoncolan in 2014 Giro d'ItaliaOnce at the top of the mountain, we marched toward the finish with thousands of other fans, most of whom in various stages of inebriation and disorder. It’s hard to describe the Friuli mountains—superlatives fail me when I think of this region. The rock formations and the epic cragginess of these mountains are stunning; you feel like you are on top of the world. Combine this with campers and tents and people grilling food and yelling and singing and blowing trumpets. It’s overwhelming. It was like an American football game, but at 5,700 ft. The last 3km of road to the finish line was absolute chaos. People of all different nationalities jostled for the best place to cheer, and there was a great sense of anticipation waiting for the cyclists to arrive. Even the police and Alpini (the Italian mountain army) that lined up and linked arms to stop the fans from running into the road with the cyclists had cameras and huge smiles, exactly the opposite of the police in the Tour de France.

When the police motos that herald the head of the race began appearing, the zeal and enthusiasm and eagerness of the crowd almost knocked me off my feet (literally), and the roar of the fans reached a fever pitch when the first hollow-eyed cyclists came zipping up the mountain. Brent ended up in a breakaway that day and got 5th! What an experience. The mountains (and people) in this part of Italy must not be missed.

Friuli with Craig LewisWant to experience this region, and in fact this very mountain, for yourself? Join our Friuli with Craig Lewis Camp, from August 30 to September 5. This year’s itinerary includes a ride with a summit finish on the Monte Zoncolan!

Protect the Past or Adapt

Lino Messori Logo

The same morning I see Marc Madiot protesting to all and sundry that the world hasn’t moved on, I also see a great Rouleur interview with Luca Campanale, the director of “Alla Velocità del Cuore”. These two very different articles are two sides of the same coin – should we protect historic activities in their existing state, or should we acknowledge them and let them adapt?

This question is central to Velo Veneto. One of our core values is to introduce people to a way of life the won’t, or can’t, see at home; to let people know what the real Italy is like. But people like Lino Messori can’t exist in today’s world, advances in technology and changes in the economy assure that. So if there is protectionism, if some governing body forces people to support a craft (or race) that is no longer relevant in today’s world, are we truly experiencing the Real Italy or the Real France? Or are we looking at a time gone by? A past reality?

To me, Venice is the embodiment of this question. For the millions of people who visit this wonderful city every year, there is no question that they are looking at a historical Disneyland. The only reason Venice still exists is for the tourists. What you see on your visit is not real life, it’s the life Venetians go about to support the tourism industry and the picture they want to paint for you of a time gone by. To learn about our shared history, to experience this in the flesh, is amazing and even necessary, but it is not “real”. Were it not for the tourists, Venice long ago would have been abandoned, left for Mother Nature to take over, and subsumed into the lagoon from whence it came.

So should we protect these artifacts of the past? We don’t know the right answer, so we’ll give you both for now. A trip to Velo Veneto isn’t really complete without visiting Venice for the day. But we’ll take you to the Real Italy as well; the local framebuilder who’s moved on to new ways of expressing his craft, the corner cafe owner who uses her love of chocolates and languages to branch out to new markets around the world, and the wineries that embrace the globalization of the wine market and enjoy the challenge it presents. We will attempt to learn of and from our history, but not at the expense of forward progress. Who knows what amazing things the craftsmen (and women) of tomorrow will make Italy famous for!